Xaar® introduces 2002 printhead
Xaar has announced a new printhead, the 2002, which is perhpas more of a heavily updated version of the 2001+ head. Xaar has made a number of improvements to the overall print quality as well as to make the heads more robust and easier to service.
The new head replaces the 2001+ but is backwards compatible so that users can easily switch to the 2002. In any case, the 2001+ is now discontinued. The 2002 continues Xaar’s proven approach with bulk piezo actuators, and uses Xaar’s Hybrid Side Shooter architecture, which is the same as the 1003 and 2001 series printheads. As such the head has an inlet and outlet for the ink as well as a separate nozzle in each channel. The nozzle is to the side of the ink channel and the drop is fired perpendicular to the flow of the ink.
The 2002 has a 70.5mm print width, with 2000 active nozzles arranged in four rows. It has two separate channels so could be run with two colours in which case each would have a resolution of 360npi. However, Xaar appears to expect most people to run each head with a single colour, meaning that the base resolution is 720 nozzles per inch.
Jason Remnant, Xaar’s Go to Market manager, says that 720dpi is sufficient for the markets that Xaar is targeting with the 2002, which is mainly ceramics, glass and secondary packaging. He says: “There are some areas in labelling where they are quite happy with 720dpi.” He adds: “720 with good uniformity can look great so this chase for higher image quality is crazy for some applications.” And, as he points out, even with a 1200 dpi press, many customers will opt to print at a lower resolution in order to achieve higher productivity. He points out that it is possible to combine printheads together to achieve a higher resolution though this does push the cost up. But as he notes: “It depends on whether two of these heads giving you 1440 dpi are significantly more expensive than a 1200 dpi native head.”
The main competition is likely to come from some of Xaar’s former licensees such as Dimatix and Seiko, which are highly successful in the ceramics market though Xaar is clearly hoping that the 2002 will help it recover some of the ground that it lost, particularly in the ceramics market.
Remnant suggests that there is some more growth in the ceramic market as customers expand beyond floor tiles to work tops for kitchens and bathrooms because the digital process allows for bigger tiles, and they are lighter weight because they use composite materials so they have the same strength and look of solid marble. He adds: “So the market is growing and this obviously provides more opportunity for us again.”
It’s available in three variants: Plus, for oil-based fluids; Premium, which can also handle glass frits, soluble salt and solvents; and Advanced, suitable for all these fluids plus UV curable coating and decoration. Not surprisingly, the Advanced version is capable of the best dot accuracy and uniformity.
The 2002 can be built with a choice of native drop sizes, from either 6 or 12pl droplets with a firing frequency of 36kHz, or 40pl drops at 24kHz. These are greyscale heads with up to eight levels starting from the native drop size so that, for example, a 6pl head will produce drops ranging from 6-42pl. Xaar says that this head should be able to run at 75mpm at 720dpi in binary mode assuming 36kHz firing frequency, which is an improvement on the 2001+, which could run at 60mpm. This is down to optimisation of the printhead, the waveforms and the inks.
One of the big improvements that Xaar has made is called Tuned Actuator Manufacturing or TAM2, which involves making each nozzle individually so as to deliver more uniform flat colour and tone. Remnant says that the feedback from the market was that users wanted a more plug and play approach, explaining: “This means that people don’t have to spend as much time setting up their printheads to get nice uniform print, colour and tone that you would with other printheads with less uniformity.” He adds: “Time costs money so for us to be able to provide a printhead that has better quality out of the box, that’s a significant improvement.”
Xaar has also improved on another technology, which it calls AcuChp. Remnant explains: “Inside the printhead we have some drive chips and each one drives about 9mm worth of printhead and we can tune each 9mm to match each other. It enables better colour uniformity across the head and allows you to match all those chips to the chips in another printhead so we have more uniformity across the printhead and more uniformity between printheads, reducing the amount of tuning that the customer would need to do.”
This is done within the head and although the drive electronics have to be able to cope with it, there’s no additional complexity. This is an existing technology that’s used across most of Xaar’s printhead range but Remnant says that in the past some customers might have ignored this capability so Xaar has now enabled it to be implemented out of the box, saving the OEMs from having to do it. This means that it’s quicker to install new and replacement printheads.
Xaar has also made the 2002 more serviceable, allowing customers to replace some parts rather than replacing the whole head, which reduces costs to the user. This also reduces the overall environmental footprint of the printhead since it allows the customers to keep using their existing heads so there’s less shipping involved. The 2002 is the first head to have this degree of serviceability and Xaar expects this servicing to be carried out by the OEMs.
All of the 2002 heads use Xaar’s excellent TF recirculation technology, which should reduce maintenance and give better reliability and print quality. Remant notes: “We will continue to champion that technology in our products and we still get very good feedback that that is a differentiating feature.”
Most printhead vendors do now offer some form of recirculation but Remnant argues that there are different levels of recirculation, explaining: “Some people call it recirculation but it actually just recirculates further up in the printhead behind the filter and you still have these channels that go down to the nozzle where the ink doesn’t really recirculate. Then you get more advanced types leading up to Xaar’s true behind the nozzle recirculation where 100 percent of all the fluid is recirculating all the time in the printhead.”
The difference largely comes down to the overall architecture of the printhead. Remnant adds: “We have a very open structure that means you can get fluid in and out very easily and that has the benefit of having a higher flow. If you have a higher flow then it has benefits in terms of ongoing reliability, mixing the ink, preventing sedimention and it avoids dead spots. So we believe that our architecture enables recirculation in a way that nobody else does.”
Recirculation has become a hot issue in recent years because of the number of single pass inkjet printers, where the overall reliability of the head is essential because all the ink must be laid down in one pass unlike a scanning printer where subsequent passes of the printheads can fill in for missing nozzles. Remnant says that recirculation is also useful with scanning printers because the greater reliability means there is less maintenance required, increasing the printer’s uptime.
It’s worth noting that Xaar also offers the TF technology on other printheads in its range, such as the 501, where there’s a choice of full, partial or no recirculation but all the 2002 series offer full recirculation all the time. Remnant accepts that there is a perception in the market that recirculation is more expensive as it leads to more complex ink supply systems but he points out that the benefits from having a more reliable system should outweigh this.
The 2002 is also capable of high viscosity and high laydown, which allow for printing thicker films, useful for tactile effects like spot varnishes as well as having higher coverage of white ink. High viscosity fluids would be particularly useful for industrial applications and this is something that I will come back to in the future. Remant adds: “We are learning a lot about the high viscosity markets and applications that are out there.”
There’s an option for OEMs to put their own branding to the heads and even to code the printers they build to the heads they supply. The heads have an OEM ID and OEMs could use this in different ways, which might be simply to show customers a message advising them that they really should have bought their heads from that OEM.
But OEMs can opt for a more aggressive approach if they prefer. That could mean that customers have to buy replacement heads from the OEM instead of picking up Xaar-branded heads on the open market. There is some suggestion that this could cut down on some scams – such as used heads being sold by Internet fraudsters as new – by forcing customers to go back to the OEM that they have an existing relationship with. This could certainly give customers a degree of reassurance when dealing with large trusted vendors, such as Canon, which uses Xaar heads in its LabelStream 4000 press.
But I think that it’s a dangerous move because it ties customers into a particular OEM. There are a lot of new vendors coming into the print market with inkjet machines, particularly in the industrial sector, but also labelling and large format, including many from Asian countries, especially China. Not all of these vendors will flourish and some will go under, while others may ultimately change their business partners and may even switch from Xaar to another head vendor. Any customers that subsequently need replacement heads coded from those OEMs will find themselves in a very sticky situation. Of course, that would apply to the overall servicing as well as the heads, but where this has happened in the past specialists have stepped in and taken over the service contracts to keep machines running.
The 2002 printhead also incorporates a number of existing Xaar technologies, including Xaar Dot, which is a greyscale technique to tune the drop in the ink to get the number of greys and also to allow a customer to run the head in a binary mode if they preferred.
The head also features Xaar Guard, which refers to the nozzle plate. The nozzles are recessed so the plate protects them from physical contact and minimises build-up of ink on the nozzle plate, which in turn reduces the need for maintenance.
Xaar now supplies these heads in recyclable packaging as part of a wider move to be more environmentally-friendly. Xaar won’t comment on pricing but Remnant did say: “I think that everyone will be pleasantly happy with the price performance proposition.”
Finally, Xaar has just announced a new platform for developing its printheads, ImagineX, which gathers together a number of technologies that Xaar has announced over the past year or so including the high laydown and high viscosity features. I’ll deal with ImagineX in a separate story later this month but the 2002 can be seen as part of this initiative. You can find more details on the 2002 from xaar.com.